Diversity is about celebrating individuality

Photo by Tyler Meuter

While in Tech’s Office of Institute Diversity, I had a revelation that my ideas of diversity were entirely wrong. The dictionary definition of diversity was less than helpful. “(n.) The state of being diverse; a range of different things.” What is the first image that comes to your mind when you hear the word “diversity?” Black advocacy groups? Feminist movements? LGBTQIA support networks? We’re viewing it all wrong. Diversity isn’t about these minority groups — at least not entirely.

I grew up in Connecticut, in a relatively homogenous Caucasian culture and was raised by immigrant parents. You could argue that I had the best of both worlds; exposed to American culture but also had direct access to Indian culture. As I was growing up I was told how lucky I was to be able to experience two different cultures — but I never saw it that way.

There were no Indians within a fifty-mile radius, save for one or two families that we had dinner with once or twice a year. There were no Hindustani vocal classes for me to take. No bharatanatyam lessons. The nearest temple was about an hour away and the drive there always made me feel nauseous.

Instead, I learned violin — western style and have been playing for 15 years. I joined the fencing team in high school. I pursued endeavors in writing, poetry and literature. The majority of my friends were Caucasian, and I didn’t have a single Indian friend. I was so influenced by the homogenous white culture that surrounded me for 18 years that I felt that I wasn’t able to entirely connect to my roots. For awhile, I felt ashamed because I wasn’t as Indian as I should be. Coming to Tech, with its large Indian population, made me feel even more so.

During my first sleep away camp, not too far from home, I heard people whispering outside my dorm room door — “she doesn’t even have an Indian accent” — which made me more angry than upset. I didn’t like how people expected me to conform to their stereotypes of what it means to be Indian. I didn’t like how people thought they should know me more than I know myself. I didn’t like how people didn’t acknowledge and define me for and by my individual interests but rather for what I should be based on my heritage.

The point of my childhood anecdotes isn’t to say that I’m rejecting my culture or that I’m having some sort of identity crisis. I’ve had enriching cultural experiences at Tech for which I am incredibly grateful — but since I don’t entirely define myself by my roots, do I fit into one of the categories that we label as a contribution to the diversity on campus?

Diversity shouldn’t only be about the number of minority groups that exist in a certain community or the ratio of males to females at a Tech school, but rather about a person’s individuality. This isn’t to say that diversity isn’t about the existing minority groups — that’s just what we’ve defined it to be — but it’s important to relay the message of acceptance to not only people who identify as gay, female or African American, but to people of specific interests as well.

There’s a place for everyone on this campus, but it’s not restricted to innately based characteristics like race and gender. Our individuality in terms of our beliefs, interests and experiences, is what makes us diverse.